If you are learning about the Anunnaki, two names you are going to hear a lot are Enki and Enlil. While there are a number of “central characters” in the myths and legends of the Anunnaki, much of the action revolves around these two sibling rivals.
In this article, I am going to give you a crash course in the mythology of Enki and Enlil. But this is a complex topic, and I do not want to jump into it without laying the initial groundwork. So here are the absolute basics, just in case you are brand new to learning about the Anunnaki.
When we talk about the Anunnaki, we are referring to the ancient gods of Mesopotamia. But depending on who you ask, the Anunnaki may also have been alien visitors from a planet called Nibiru which is in a long orbit around the sun.
Naturally the space alien theory doesn’t fly in the mainstream, but it was popularized by a Russian-born American author named Zecharia Sitchin. Since he presented his ideas to the world, they have become a recognizable fixture in popular culture.
I will be talking more about Sitchin and his ideas later, but first I want to get back to Sumerian mythology. I am going to introduce you to Enki and Enlil and their place in the Mesopotamian pantheon, and then I will tell you how they figure into the ancient flood legend. I will describe how they inspired other mythologies and religions, including Christianity.
The Sumerian Pantheon and Creation Myth
As with many other polytheistic religions, the Sumerian pantheon consists of a number of gods who are all related to one another.
It is easiest to describe the shape of this family tree by starting with Anu. Anu is also known as “An,” the Great Father of the Sky. He is the original supreme deity in the pantheon, lord of all the other gods. He loses this position as the Sumerian tale unfolds, passing it off to Enlil and then (in Babylonian lore) to Marduk.
You will notice that Anu is not the first god in the family tree.
His parents are two primordial gods, Anshar and Kishar. If you happen to be versed in Greek mythology, you can think of these primordial gods as being a little bit like the titans who preceded the ancient Greek gods. After the Greek gods overthrew the titans, the importance of the titans took a backseat to the significance of the gods (in general).
The same is true here—the primordial gods factor into the creation myth of the Sumerians, but are less important later on.
Returning to Anu, Anu’s two consorts are Antu, Great Mother of the Sky, and Ki, the Earth Mother. Both gave him children.
Ki gave birth to Enlil, Lord of the Air and Earth, Guardian of the Tablet of Destinies (to start), and Nin-khursag, Lady of the Mountain.
Antu’s child was Enki, Lord of the Earth and Waters, known also as “Ea.”
As you can see, Enlil and Enki are half-brothers. Following his birth, Enlil cleaved the earth from heaven. At this point, he and Ki took command of the earth, while Anu continued to reign in heaven.
What is the Tablet of Destinies?
Just now I mentioned Enlil as the “Guardian of the Tablet of Destinies.” This is a mythological object of supreme importance. It is quite literally supposed to be a clay tablet engraved with cuneiform. Whichever god possessed it was considered the ruler of the universe.
Note that “Tablet of Destinies” is the proper name for this object. People often get it wrong. You may see it incorrectly referred to as the “Tablets of Destiny.” It is a singular object. I have also seen it called the “Table of Destiny.” I have no idea what is up with that.
In any case, according to many texts, Enlil was in possession of the Tablet for a long time, which made him supreme ruler of the universe, surpassing even Anu. There is however a Sumerian poem titled “Ninurta and the Turtle” which mentions that Enki possessed the Tablet.
The Tablet changes hands a number of times, depending on the text you read. At one point, Tiamat, the Dragon Queen (look for her at the very top of the family tree), possesses it. She gives it to her consort Kingu, who becomes commander of her army. Marduk, Enki’s son, beats Tiamat in single combat, then defeats Kingu, claiming the Tablet and the authority for himself. At that point, Marduk becomes supreme ruler.
Just to complicate matters, this whole tale with Marduk only shows up in the Babylonian version of the myth. In the Sumerian version, Enlil beats Tiamat and reigns supreme.
Genesis of the Flood Myth
Yes, I deliberately titled this section “Genesis of the Flood Myth”—not “The Flood Myth of Genesis.” If you have read anything about Anunnaki in the Bible, you likely knew I was going to get around to this. This is where a lot of the stories of the Anunnaki converge. And as you may also have guessed, Enki and Enlil are key players.
The Judeo-Christian Version:
Many people are familiar with the flood myth in the Bible. This is the story of Noah’s Ark. The summary version is that Yahweh was getting fed up with the sins of humankind. More specifically, He was upset about the corruption of mankind by beings referred to as the “Nephilim.” Consider this passage from The Book of Jubilees, 7:21-25:
“21 For owing to these three things came the flood upon the earth, namely, owing to the fornication wherein the Watchers against the law of their ordinances went a whoring after the daughters of men, and took themselves wives of all which they chose: and they made the beginning of uncleanness.”
It is quite easy to equate the “Watchers” or “Nephilim” with the Anunnaki.
I urge you to read up on this topic in detail in my article “Who Were the Nephilim?” Basically, fallen angels brought science and technology to humanity, but did it to enslave and corrupt them. Interbreeding ensued, leading to a race of demigods.
Yahweh decided to wipe out everyone and start over.
So He told Noah to build a great Ark. Noah loaded up the Ark with two of every animal and put his own family onboard. The flood destroyed all animal and human life outside the Ark—as well as (presumably) the fallen angels and Nephilim. Noah’s family were able to repopulate the earth after they disembarked. God put a rainbow in the sky as a promise He would never judge the earth again with another flood.
The Sumerian Version:
The Sumerian flood myth is older than the one in Genesis, which is why I asserted with my title that the Sumerian story is the genesis of the Bible flood myth. This belief is shared by many scholars. It is thought that a number of early ancient Hebrews were in fact inhabitants of Mesopotamia.
This would have enabled them to pick up on the Sumerian myths and legends and use them as a basis for their own religion.
There are a number of Sumerian texts which feature a great flood in one form or another. The earliest known example is in the Epic of Ziusudra. Others include the Epic of Atrahasis and the well-known Epic of Gilgamesh.
The Epic of Gilgamesh is the story which bears the strongest resemblance to the later Genesis version featured in the Bible. Interestingly enough, it doesn’t seem to have been originally included in the tablets; it was edited into Tablet XI later by someone who was inspired by the Epic of Atrahasis.
I will tell you more about Gilgamesh in a moment, but first I want to briefly talk about the Eridu Genesis.
The Eridu Genesis was discovered on a fragmentary tablet by historian Thorkild Jacobsen. This is how we learned the Sumerian creation myth which I have already shared in part with you.
Because the tablets are fragmentary, bits and pieces of the story are missing. In the beginning, we find that Anu, Enlil, Enki and Nin-khursag have created human beings.
Cities have been founded and life is flourishing.
There is then a missing section. Following that, we find out that a major destructive flood is on its way, and the pantheon has decided not to warn humanity or do anything to save them.
Enki decides he isn’t okay with this, so he warns a hero and tells him he should build an Ark. In the Eridu Genesis, this hero is Atra-hasis. In the better-known Epic of Gilgamesh, it is Utnapishtim.
Obviously the stories of Enlil and Enki are woven deeply into the fabric of Sumerian legends. These two played a role in numerous different aspects of the mythos. There are many ways that I could approach this discussion, but I have decided that the simplest way to organize the information would be to write a summary on each. While I could simply tell a detailed chronology of events, I personally find it easier to remember information when it is presented in relation to specific characters.
Enlil: Humanity’s Oppressor
Enlil’s role in Sumerian mythology can be summed up with reference to humanity in one word: oppressor.
Enlil was actually the god who (according to the Atrahasis-Epos text) originally commissioned the creation of the human race.
You might think that would be a good thing, but the only reason he wanted human beings was so that he would have a race he could enslave to do his bidding.
In fact, this was itself a bid for power among the gods. In the Sumerian myth (not the Babylonian one, which involves Marduk, as discussed earlier), a number of the gods are on strike because they are tired of maintaining creation.
Enlil proposes that he will solve the issue of the strike if he is named supreme ruler of the gods. In this version of the story, it is he (not Marduk) who subdues Tiamat.
Later on, Enlil becomes tired of humanity’s “noise,” and as a result, decides to kill them all with the great flood. As the god of weather, this was easy for him to do.
This then brings us full circle back to the story of Utnapishtim from the Epic of Gilgamesh, who was saved by Enki and corresponds to Noah in the Judeo-Christian version of the myth.
Amusingly enough, Enlil eventually gets over his anger after the flood and decides to make Utnapishtim immortal.
Enki: Humanity’s Champion
Now let’s talk about Enki, Enlil’s half-brother. Enki’s role can be summed up as humanity’s creator and champion.
While Enlil is battling with Tiamat, Enki is missing the whole thing, because he is asleep. Thankfully, his mother Antu, also known as “Nammu,” is able to communicate with him. She says:
Oh my son, arise from thy bed, from thy (slumber), work what is wise, Fashion servants for the Gods, may they produce their (bread?).
Enki wakes up and suggests the creation of a slave race—humanity. Now, you might think this made it his idea, but in truth, it was Enlil’s. Enlil was the one who spoke to Nammu, who then suggested the idea to Enki.
Enki himself creates human beings out of a mixture of clay and the blood of the slain god Kingu.
If you are knowledgeable about Greek mythology, this probably will ring a bell—Prometheus, the ancient titan, created humanity out of clay. The two function as very similar figures. Like Prometheus, Enki tends to stand up for the human race in conflict with the gods.
Coming back around to the flood story, Enki wasn’t too pleased when he discovered Enlil planned to wipe out the race he’d created.
So he took it upon himself to warn Utnapishtim. He told Utnapishtim to construct an Ark.
Like Noah, Utnapishtim was commanded to load the Ark up with animals. Together with his wife, he preserved life on earth when the flood was unleashed.
After the waters began to recede, he released the animals to repopulate the planet. As I mentioned previously, Enlil eventually got over his outrage and granted immortality to Utnapishtim and his wife.
The Extraterrestrial Version of the Flood Myth:
You now know the Sumerian and Judeo-Christian versions of the creation and flood myths.
The modern extraterrestrial version was popularized by author Zecharia Sitchin in volumes such as The Lost Book of Enki.
The idea is this: the Anunnaki weren’t gods, or weren’t just gods—they were alien visitors from outer space. You have probably heard Arthur C. Clarke’s famous quotation, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” This is the underlying assumption in equating the Anunnaki with aliens.
If ancient humans encountered beings from another world, they would describe them in a language which made sense to them at the time. As they did not have the word “aliens,” they would simply go with “gods.”
There are numerous parallels and arguments which Sitchin and other Anunnaki alien theorists draw across the texts. There is no way to sum it all up here (I suggest checking out the rest of the articles on our site), but here are a few key pointers:
They came to earth to mine gold, which they require to power their civilization. They created and enslaved humanity to do the hard work for them.
All the familiar players from Sumerian mythology—Enlil, Enki, Anu, Marduk and the rest—were actually alien administrators.
Nibiru is in a long orbit around the sun. The last time it came close to Earth, it upset the tides, causing the great flood.
Eventually Nibiru will return, causing another cataclysm.
Those in the mainstream view Sitchin’s work with some disdain—but I would argue that it helps to view the extraterrestrial story as modern mythology. Think about it for a moment. Even the Sumerian and Babylonian texts conflict over whatever seed of truth may have inspired them. So yes, there are some inconsistencies involving Sitchin’s alien theory—but there are inconsistencies between the ancient texts as well.
So I want to wrap this up on the same note I usually come back to with our research. I hope that you now have a much stronger understanding of both Enki and Enlil and their roles in Sumerian mythology and the Anunnaki alien mythos. You also should have a pretty good idea how this all ties into Judeo-Christian lore.
But I really hope that your main takeaway is this: Every version of every story is interpretive. The truth behind the stories is unknown. By piecing together what we learn from a range of different mythologies—both ancient and modern—we can start to imagine what the completed puzzle might look like.
All of these pieces have value, and all have something to tell us about our collective journey as humankind. This is why it pays to keep an open mind!